Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday morning rant: I'm not your girlfriend...

(via Jezebel)

Check out the video at the link above. I'll wait...

Watched it?

Now, I can't tell you how disgusted I am by people like Mary Matalin who think that in America, the ability to get basic healthcare for your family is a privilege rather than a right. But Matalin has long been a clueless, Republican hack, so...y' surprises there. But I'm going to have to join Irin at Jezebel in saying a white person tossing out "girlfriend" in a professional conversation with a black woman equals epic fail. Donna Brazile is a fellow pundit on a political talk show, not Matalin's sassy, black sidekick. Thank the gods that Matalin didn't throw in the de rigeur drawl of the word. Girlfreeeeeyend.

Of course, it's not just professional settings where this kind of thing is demeaning...

There is little more annoying, frustrating and demonstrative of race bias, than trotting out so-called urban lingo from more than a decade ago in an effort to "relate" to an African American during a random conversation. Ditto any effort to mimic my actually pretty flat and generic Midwestern accent with some cross between Madea and Prissy from "Gone With The Wind," punctuated with snaps and cries of "No she di-n't." (And, yes, I did experience something quite similar within the last two weeks.)

See, when you do this, it tells me that while we are talking about politics or music or current affairs or literature or whatever, you are hyper-aware of my race, and that awareness makes you see not the woman in front of you, but a gross stereotype built of your own biases.

At least I know I am not alone in my annoyance, check out this query from a reader at Diversity Inc.
I am a well-educated, middle class black woman from upstate New York. Why do some white people speak to me in slang? It's as though they think they need to talk "cool" (in their perception) to be understood by me. Also, why do some white people appear surprised when they first see me after having spoken to me on the phone? Why, why, why do some white people think black people don't speak The King's English? Read more...
Oh, and there's this from Debra Dickeron at Mother Jones:
Anyway, just another day on the job, just another pitch for a book which, for once, sounds at least initially interesting, until I get to the sign-off: "Holler for review copies, eh?". Holler, not holla, but in either case: ironic wiggerness in the workplace.

I'm intellectually anal-retentive, so I can't help but burn daylight wondering: Did potential white reviewers get the same sign-off? Or have white folks developed several sets of 'pitch' macros with labels like "black, but an Uncle Tom who'll find this ironic," "white, but living in dream world wherein they're cool," and "confused, but too cowed to make waves."? Read more...
And then there is this never-not-funny, iconic episode of Dave Chapelle's "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong."

Now, methinks Donna Brazile is too savvy to "keep it real" on CNN, but I'd love to know if she got that little pang we sometimes get when one of those dull aches of racism roll by.


Lyonside said...

Am I dating myself if I just say "Wordy McWord" to this entire post? One of my good friends from college, who is also multiracial (in her case, AA, Welsh, and Native) but IDs as African-American, calls it "speaking fluent Caucasian." And says a lot of flak we've gotten over the years stems from that disconnect.

Inda Lauryn said...

"I know black folks real well/'Cause I watch me some Dave Chappelle" - Thank you Imani Coppola. Wow, it's nice to see white people reaching out to get in touch with their inner black. She's just showing she's down. Don't we all "talk" like that. Note: sarcasm and BS detector.

Anonymous said...

My black friends, as well as close co-workers I get on with, call me "girlfriend" sometimes (we are all middle-aged and have known each other for years), but I would never THINK to use it with them. Maitlin is a heartless, souless, Ayn Randian eliminationist pundit. I would almost be embarrassed for her, but she has no shame. And I don't care that she has known Ms. Brazile for years and probably considers her a friend.

Her real "girlfriend" anyways is Sarah Palin. This person who gets paid millions of dollars of year to spout the hate and privilege she does, who is supposedly so brilliant and an insightful political operative and observer, supports Palin for president. They can get their "inner white" on with themselves.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Wow, Tami. Great post. I hope all these "girlfriends" and stuff get called out as quickly as you've done here.

Some slang does seem to make it out of African American or urban or street culture and become used in a larger sense. But I believe it is possible. I think what white folk who co-opt black, AA, urban, street speech (I hate the term "wigger", incidentally) are doing two things: A. demonstrating they really don't care how others might feel about this, and B. trivializing others by treating them like exotics. I am not saying whites who do this are intentionally doing it.

I talked with another white woman yesterday about her choice to give herself dredlocks, and her daughter some as well. Dredlocks are another example of co-opting an aspect of a culture to appear street, or hip, or urban, or post-race (YMMV). I am not saying no white person should ever have this hairstyle (my own hair at the back of my head naturally forms a few), but I am saying proceed with caution!

I want to echo Anonymous in that I have a friend who calls me "girlfriend" and used the n-word but that doesn't mean I suddenly have license to use the same. It doesn't feel like me to talk just like her (white parrot!) or to co-opt her expressions. I can just be me.

This was my first viewing of the Dave Chappelle show (I don't own a television). Very funny.

I think this clip is old but, you know, illustrates the Ultimate for whites trying to adopt language they shouldn't:

N Word for the White Guy

Hope I wasn't too all-over-the-place on this one.

Doreen said...

Oh my God, Tami. This. A million times. I cannot tell you the number of times when I was living in America when white people would change the way they speak when they started talking to me, as if like you said, they weren't even paying attention to the way I speaking and just saw a gross caricature in front of them rather than an actual person. And even if they were talking to someone who spoke "urban" English (what does that really mean anyway?), wouldn't it be incredibly patronizing and condescending to start trying to mimic their speech in a conversation?

I remember one particular instance in high school, when I had only been living in America for about a year, one of my friends asked what the word "baller" meant and I said I didn't know, and some other friend said "Doreen, you should know, you're black!" Um, what the hell? Does she think black people all around the world have a secret slang dictionary that we mail to each other and update each month so we can speak the same type of English? I should have said "Um, you're AMERICAN, why don't YOU know?" But alas, I didn't. I really wish I had.

konkonsn said...

"And even if they were talking to someone who spoke 'urban' English (what does that really mean anyway?), wouldn't it be incredibly patronizing and condescending to start trying to mimic their speech in a conversation?"

Well, if you hang out with a group of people, generally your speech drifts towards the majority dialect (usually unconsciously) in an attempt to show your inclusiveness in a group.

That's, of course, different than what's going on here, which is whites ignoring the speech patterns completely and just going with what they think is right (based on stereotypes). But I have to wonder if the above is still ok or not...?

Anonymous said...

seriously i am sure that this happens everyday in offices, were the presence of people of color is considered super exciting. Im not black, im mixed cuban/white but when I went to work for a very very white non profit I had one particular co-worker (white man) who felt the need to fist bump me, call me "homie" and play hip hop everytime i set foot in his office. I wish i was making this up. I bet if I was black it would have been ten times worse

Moi said...

Or like when one of your idiot coworkers goes to the tanning salon and comes back the next day to joke about how she's now "darker than you."

NOLA radfem said...

PLease allow me to fill in a slightly different cultural context.

Brazile and Matalin both live in New Orleans. We ABSOLUTELY, CONSTANTLY end our sentences with terms like "baaaa-by", "huney", "hun," "huneypie","suga," "sugapie," "sugabee," and "doll-lyn'" (darling, that is - ahem!). Women especially will use "dawlin'" a lot, plus "boo," "girl," "hun," "missy," "missy miss," "mah hawt" (my heart), "chere" (French for girlfriend). Men will say to other men "bra," "cap," and "podna." They too say "dawling," but while women say it to either sex, men say it only to women (what with homophobia being what it is and all...sigh). Like women, men say "baby," A LOT, with the first part really drawn out. Both genders will say "beb" (babe). There is also "chou-chou" (pronounced shoo-shoo, French for cabbage head, but in France is another term of endearment). There is also "cher" (male friend). My husband still smiles dreamily over the auto parts store cashier who called him "suga' lips" a few years ago. And, of course, there is a lot of "ma'm" and "sir" going around.

NOLA radfem said...

Whites from New Orleans do not speak "Caucasian," actually. We speak New Orleanian, which has over thirty academically documented dialects, and I would not classify ANY as fluent Caucasian (LOL), including my own accent. When I travel towards Texas, sometime past Lake Charles, the cashiers and waitresses start asking me to repeat multiple times what I have said. That is because we New Orleanians run so many sounds together that slower- speaking Texans and Mississippians (and even OTHER Louisianians) have trouble understanding us.

I am not defending Mary Matalin. First, I am a liberal / radical and I really dislike her politics. In fact, she turns my stomach. Second, I too am uncomfortable with her choosing to call the fabulous Donna Brazile* "girlfriend." I just AM uncomfortable with Matalin saying what she said. BUT, having said that, if "girlfriend" was EVER going to somehow legitimately cross a color line ANYWHERE in this country, New Orleans would be the place. I have been away for over 20 years due to my husband's military career, so I know all the traditional forms of address but not the most modern, so I wouldn't know how "girlfriend" is currently being used in New Orleans. Like I said, I wouldn't try it, but it is POSSIBLE that here it has become somewhat standard. Given our dialect, it is very possible - like I've explained, we end our sentences with some term of endearment ALL the time and we like to mix it up.

So, I just wanted to point out that they both live in New Orleans and when two New Orleanians meet, both can expect to be called pet names at the end of sentences, regardless of age, race, or gender. It really is part of the friendliness of New Orleanians to do that.

Three links on the dialect:

Yat Speak (How ta tawk rite):

Yat dialect:

Mardi Gras fun:

Lastly, from the middle link, wikipedia:
A Yat accent is considered an identity marker of a person born and raised in the greater New Orleans area. Speakers with a New Orleans accent often find a sense of pride in having a local accent. This dialect is closely associated with the white population of the New Orleans metropolitan area. However, due to most of the African-American population living there prior to 1803 due the colonial French era, black New Orleanians do share more lingual characteristics with the white population than most other places in the southern United States.

Just another angle. Not the only one, of course, just one New Orleanian's.

Thank you, Tami. Thought-provoking in the best way as usual.

*Donna Brazil has a fabulous book - growing up in NOLA and also local recipes.

NOLA radfem said...

okay, third post:

I rewatched it. There is no "understanding another side to it" (which is my natural tendency). You're right. It's just gross. I thought MAYBE living in NOLA, some of that way of talking, our way, had kind of rubbed off on her (as it has John Goodman, who used to play the husband on "Roseanne,") but she still TOTALLY has that midwestern thing going on, and also the setting was just too formal...I would hope even we native-born NOLAs know to turn down the dialect on national t.v. enough to avoid "baby" and so on at the end of our sentences.

You're right, all of you. As usual, Matalin makes me feel like my breakfast could come back up.

Tami said...

Hey Carolyn,

I would totally give Matalin a pass on that if those NOLAisms were part of her normal speech patterns, but I've never heard her drop any of those on television ever. I'd have to wonder, why now?

P.S. The NOLA drawl is one of my favorite parts of visiting the area!

Lady C said...

Two weeks ago, my sisters and I had to speak with the nursing home about my daughters care. My daughter is a 42-years-old, lupus patient.

My sisters and my daughter live in the Northeast and I live in the Midwest; therefore, a conference call had to be set up.

Anyway, as the meeting progressed, I heard this woman say several times, "I am so impressed with the three of you." I thought, the first time she said it, that she was speaking to someone in the room where the meeting was being held. After the second, time she said it, my sister had just spoken. The third time she said it, I had just spoken.

When the meeting was over, my younger sister called. We both concluded that this woman has never had a conversation with Black folks before that day. If she had, she would not have been "so impressed" with the three of us.

Maitlin is a despicable hag. She said what she said because Donna was laughing at the lie she was spewing about reconciliation. The American people don't know what reconciliation means. If they do, they are just beginning to understand its implications. We thought that the majority rules, up till now. Now we know that 60 rules and without it, meaningful legislation can be passed through reconciliation.


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